HR #Metoo workshop
The ECCT's Human Resources committee hosted a workshop & lunch to share lessons and offer advice to corporations on how to better address sexual harassment complaints and create a safe and diverse workplace. The event featured presentations by Howard Shiu, Partner at Baker McKenzie, and Sing Yueh, Lead Associate, Taiwan Work & Rewards Consulting for Willis Towers Watson US LLC Taiwan Branch. This was followed by a lunch and panel discussion moderated by Judy Huang, Regional Communication Head for Electronics, Head of Communications and Government Affairs for the Taiwan Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Department of the Merck Group Taiwan. Besides the speakers, Crystal Chan, Head of Human Resources for Bayer Taiwan and Pamela Tsai, Head of the HR and Administration Division for Nomura Asset Management Taiwan Ltd joined the panel discussion.
In his presentation, Howard Shiu began by debunking three myths about sexual harassment:
The first myth, that sexual harassment is trivial, belies the fact that sexual harassment charges have enormous, life-changing implications for the perpetrators that can destroy their careers and social lives. The second myth, that sexual harassment is entertaining, is belied by the fact that cases are traumatic experiences for the complainants and accused where only one party can survive and third parties can become defendants. The third myth is that sexual harassment has “nothing to do with me.” However, just something as trivial as telling or hearing a dirty joke could lead to accusations of sexual harassment, implying that anyone and everyone could be dragged into a harassment case. Even swearing (using the F-word) could end one's professional life.
Shiu went on to share details about a sexual harassment case in which lewd text messages were exchanged between two colleagues, one male and one female. When showing only the texts of the male colleague (with the replies deleted), it could easily be construed that the male colleague was making unwanted advances of a sexual nature. However, when revealing the female colleague's texts it became clear that she was the instigator of the exchange and encouraged it and then filed a sexual harassment claim only when her male colleague decided to stop engaging. While this is not the norm (the majority of sexual harassment claims are genuine), it reveals that things are not always how they appear on the surface, which is why caution and careful handling of cases is advised. According to Taiwan authorities, in 2017, 662 cases were reported. By 2021, the number of cases had reached 1,721, an increase of nearly 2.6 times. Of these, 75% turned out to be true.
Shiu went on to outline the steps to go through in each case and some pitfalls to avoid. Firstly, all cases should be taken seriously. The facts of each case should be thoroughly investigated and a comprehensive report should be filed. Separating the harasser from the victim in the workplace is necessary. It may also be necessary to hire a psychological consultant and to ensure that the victims are protected, including from self harm.
Taiwan's legal framework to prevent sexual harassment goes back to the Act of Gender Equality in Employment (AGEE) from 2002. Since then, other regulations have been added, including the Regulations for Establishing Measures of Prevention, Correction, Complaint and Punishment of Sexual Harassment at Workplace in 2010, the Sexual Harassment Prevention Act and the Gender Equality Education Act. Recent amendments to the AGEE increase fines and introduce punitive damages. Employers who utilise their position of power for sexual harassment are liable to a fine of up to NT$1 million. In addition, the amendment allows sexual harassment victims to file a complaint directly with local authorities if they are not satisfied with the response from their employers. In addition, employers with ten or more employees must establish a sexual harassment complaint mechanism and ensure the impartiality of sexual harassment investigations.
While the #Metoo movement infamously started with cases in the United States against Hollywood movie producer, Harvey Weinstein, the biggest wave of cases in Taiwan really only kicked off in May this year.
The major lessons learned based on cases so far: Sexual harassment is about power, not sex. The accused is always more powerful. Victims have less power and usually dare not voice their concerns. It is a life and death battle and only one party can survive. Victims need the right timing and to work together. Case handlers need to bridge the power disparity to be fair. The consequence of sexual harassment is “social death” for confirmed cases or even just those who are suspected. Harassers will lose everything and may never recover. Case handlers will also be implicated and might face a similar social death. The public has zero tolerance for sexual harassment, regardless of how great the accused are. The lesson for companies is that sexual harassment goes beyond legal compliance. They need to meet social expectations. Action should be taken before complaints are sustained. Companies need to be sure that the message they send to the public meets social expectations. Formality, the statute of limitations and evidence are much less important than showing that you care. The worst thing to do is to do nothing. You need to take sides and, in the end, can only keep one party.
Shui stressed that companies need to be aware that everything that they do in the investigation stage (Round 1) could be challenged in the dispute stage (Round 2) and that they could be sued. That is why it is crucial to be as thorough as possible in the investigation stage.
In addition, companies should protect themselves by never covering up incidents, being fair and neutral, proactive and caring, complying with both the legal requirements and meeting social expectations, always consider the worst-case scenario and ensure that their actions can withstand future challenges.
Finally, the two parties cannot live under the same roof. They need to be separated as soon as possible and kept as far away from each other as possible throughout the investigation process. Companies should choose which party they wish to keep and seek to remove the other party. However, they should bear in mind that the court may not always accept their reasons for terminating the other party. In these cases, they may need to use other means or inducements to persuade the other party to resign.
In her presentation, Sing Yueh explained the importance of increasing Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. Diversity is what makes each of us unique. It is not just about gender and LGBT+, but includes our race, age, socioeconomic class, and more. Equity involves trying to understand and give people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives. Equality, in contrast, aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things. Inclusion is the action or state of including or of being included and involves authentic and empowered participation and a true sense of belonging. Diversity recognises that we are all different individuals with different challenges. Equity is understanding those challenges and ensuring everyone has fair access to that security and ability to thrive. Inclusion is how we choose to recognise diversity and act on equity, which sets the culture of how employees are valued.
The speaker highlighted some of the ways in which DEI has advanced in recent years. For example, to attract/retain more women and achieve gender equity commitments, companies have introduced and expanded parental leave and family-friendly benefits while companies are paying more attention to things like the mental health of their employees and changing demands of Generation Z.
DEI matters not only in order to meet regulatory requirements but also the expectations of employees and investors. The speaker noted that diverse skills and viewpoints can make organisations more innovative and effective in their business decisions, that embedding DEI into the culture can make them better corporate citizens while inclusion is the key to attracting, retaining and engaging the best employees. She went on to talk about how her own firm is implementing DEI.
In the Q&A panel discussion, panellists shared some of their experiences to promote a healthy workspace. These include sending periodical emails urging colleagues to respect one another, lists of dos and don'ts in social interactions, and setting up online portals for employees to file complaints. It was stressed that for DEI implementation to be successful, support is needed from senior management.